Every new host waits for their first bad guest experience. We don’t look forward to it, we definitely don’t wish for it, but it comes to us all eventually.
Mine came in the form of a group visiting in the middle of February, a rather slow time for business in the area.
A Little Background
The guest (let’s call them Alice) had initially booked the cabin when I first published the listing in November, taking advantage of the discount issued to the first 3 guests to make a reservation.
They initially communicated to me that there were 6 guests coming along, but there may be more added in the future. This was fine with me as long as the guest count was properly updated before check-in.
After opening for business in November, I hosted quite a few groups through the holiday season, continuing to learn and gain experience with each new group of guests.
All in all, I was having a pretty good time and was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly everything was going.
I thought the same for Alice’s group: they quickly agreed to the rental agreement, politely thanked me for help with their questions, and followed through with officially updating their guest count, just as they promised they would.
Guests Smoked in my Airbnb and Trashed the Place
I didn’t hear a peep out of them all weekend and they checked-out on time. Another group of excellent guests to add to the books!
That’s what I thought until I got a message from my housekeeper 30 minutes after the guests checked-out.
“These guests were definitely smoking weed in here. The smell just about knocked me down when I opened the door.”
In addition to breaking the NO SMOKING rule inside and outside of the cabin (there was ash on the couch, bedsheets, even the toilet!), they also managed to permanently damage new furniture and dirtied almost all the linens in the cabin so badly that they had to be thrown out and replaced.
Without getting into too much detail, I was quite shocked with the mess these guests were able to create in just two days, and even more shocked to realize that perfectly polite and communicative guests would leave the place in such a state. There was no way I could have seen this coming and no way to avoid it.
Conundrum of a New Host
Having only been in the business of hosting for a couple of months, I was stumped as to what to do next.
Should I leave the guest a bad review? Contact Airbnb and hope they let me keep the damage deposit? Reach out the guest directly?
At this point in time, I had two 5-star reviews under my belt that I had worked hard for; To be dealt the blow of a retaliatory low review would have seriously injured my business before I had even had the chance to begin.
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With Airbnb’s double-blind review system, the host and guest are placed into a sort of duel, both with guns loaded and pointing at each other but waiting for the other to take the first shot.
If the host leaves the review first, there is a chance the guest will assume it is bad and leave a bad review in return.
Likewise, if the guest leaves a review first, the host may assume they left a bad review in order to deny any claims the host may make about the guest’s behavior and cleanliness and then leave the guest a bad review.
There is no way to know what the other has said and, therefore, always a risk either way.
After hours of research, I was still struggling on how to proceed.
I did contact Airbnb in order to get the situation on their radar, but did not expect much out of them. After a few days of deliberation and emailing back and forth with a somewhat clueless Airbnb rep, I decided to put the situation to rest and move on.
What I Ended Up Doing
Luckily, I did not have guests booked for a few days so I was able to air out the cabin. The damage was minor and the replacement of the linens was just a small hit, nothing worth worrying about.
To avoid a possible bad review from the guest, I simply did not leave a review at all. This decision worked well for me and I was overjoyed to be done with the stressful situation.
That is, until a review from Alice popped up on the 13th day of the review window. (If you are unfamiliar, hosts and guests have 14 days to leave a review after the guest checks out.)
Guests’ Left a Surprise Review
After waiting almost two weeks, Alice suddenly decided it was time to leave a review. Of course, I panicked. I panicked hard-core. I thought I was home-free with minor damages and this notification brought me back down to Earth big time.
So I was back to square one. What should I do? There is now what could be a terrible review on my listing that would bring the average down a whole star.
Or, the review could be just fine.
I felt there was really only one right choice available to me now and that was to leave a very honest and truthful review of the guest for future hosts.
In a fully professional manner, I thanked the guest for communicating well and being timely with their check-in and check-out.
I then made sure to accurately describe the state in which the property was left. It took me quite a while to cover my bases.
I didn’t want to make any mistakes in my descriptions or break my professional, neutral character. (I’ve learned in risk-management to never provide fodder for complaints!)
So with that written, I posted Alice’s review to their profile and now had access to the review they had left for me.
I closed my eyes, nervous to see what I had dreaded for weeks. Through squinted eyes and my heart beating out of my chest, I read: “The place was great.”
What Did I Learn
What this whole experience taught me is that there isn’t always one right answer. As a rental host, you will experience so many different situations that you are expected to react professionally to, problems you will be expected to solve.
And the truth is, we are all learning as we go; nobody is perfect at the beginning of a journey.
My specific circumstances in Alice’s stay were difficult for me to manage on my own as a new host, I won’t deny that.
The situation also could have been much worse, something expensive could have been broken or stolen, or the guest could have left me a false bad review like I expected.
Protect yourself by gathering evidence of damages (pictures, cleaning bills, receipts of replacement costs), especially if there is proof of smoking (ashes, cigarette/joint butts, empty packages), but do not let the emotions of the situation control your actions.
Continue to manage fairly and true to your character, as times of stress and hardship will show your true strength.
Fear is real when taking a risk and starting something new. Through this stressful moment in time, I learned to breathe and weigh my options instead of becoming overwhelmed and giving up.
If you need help, reach out to the online community of hosts, to Airbnb support, or even talk it over with a friend.
Remember, you aren’t the first Airbnb to be partied in and you definitely won’t be the last! Take it one step at a time and learn from every one of those steps along the way.
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